Sunday, August 15, 2010

History of Halloween

Halloween and history--two of my favorite things! Ever wonder what the history was behind Halloween? Why we celebrate this holiday on October 31st? Here is a little history and trivia about my favorite holiday.

Halloween originated from the ancient Celtic festival which is called Samhain. This is the celebration of the end of the harvest season. These ancient cultures had harvested all their crops by the end of October and were preparing for the winter ahead. It was believed that on October 31 the boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead disappeared and the dead could come back among the living and wreck havoc on crops or cause sickness.

The people of these cultures would therefore dress up in costumes and masks in hopes of looking like the spirits or at least appeasing them. That is were the tradition of costumes on Halloween originates. The costumes were traditionally "spooky" in nature to look like the spirits.  There is little evidence that people in the United States "dressed up" for Halloween prior to the 1900's.  Costumes for Halloween parties became popular in the early 1900's for both children and adults.  The first mass produced Halloween costumes started to appear in 1930's when trick or treating for children was gaining popularity in the USA.  Prior to that time costumes were home made.

The Irish and Scottish immigrants who descended from the ancient Celtic cultures brought versions of the Samhain festival with them to America in the 1800's.  So slowly over time these traditions caught on and became adopted by mainstream America.  Now Halloween has because a very popular holiday, second only to Christmas as a income producer for the retail industry. 

The traditional festival of Samhain is still celebrated by Pagan and Wiccan religions all over the world.  It tends to be looked at with suspicion by the more "accepted" religions.  But there is nothing secretive or evil about it.  It is a celebration to be thankful for what you have as our ancestors were thankful for their harvest.  It also it a time to honor all loved ones that have past.  Being a genealogist I think that is a wonderful thing to do.

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